Thoughts on Certification

Wastewater agencies find that certification initiatives pay dividends in more knowledgeable, more engaged and more effective team members

A few months ago in this space I invited readers to share thoughts on certification for wastewater collection system operators. The topic got a warm reception: It appears that managers of collection departments see value in certification. Here are a few of the responses we received.

Toward a career

David Bryant, wastewater collection supervisor with Palm Bay (Fla.) Utilities, says his operation is covered under the Florida Water & Pollution Control Operators Association. The certifications are:

• One year, Level C

• Three years, Level B

• Five years, Level A.

“They are voluntary, yet they provide a valuable resource to our crew, often teaching greenhorns that this isn’t just a job, but could become a career with a little bit of work,” says Bryant. “Our city would like to see a scenario in which employees could move themselves up the ladder, so to speak, by obtaining certain certifications or qualifications. Maybe one day...

“We require our mid-level employees, camera truck operators, foremen, and others to obtain a Level B certification and our supervisors and superintendents to have an A license.

“Although entry level requires nothing, we encourage all employees to at least pursue a Level C certification. The city pays for all books and certification and allows people to attend the week-long short school on the clock. The city also provides transportation, hotel and per diem if required.”

In addition, the city offers a one-time reimbursement/bonus of $100 for obtaining each license. “My section has 19 employees: two A operators, one B operator, and eight C operators,” says Bryant. “I have three more employees who became eligible to take the C exam in December.”

Help with exams

At Clayton County (Ga.) Water Authority, Charles Ecton, wastewater maintenance coordinator, worked with his team to help more operators earn certification.

“While developing our CMOM program in 2002, we noticed that only a few out of our 38 employees held state certification for the operation of the collection system,” Ecton reports. “This certification was not required by the state or by our company.

“Many of our employees had taken the state exam, but they were not having a great deal of luck passing. We decided to start a voluntary after-hours study group to build confidence and strengthen our test-taking skills by working together in a collaborative environment.

“We would take sample tests, then round-table the answers, bringing our individual skill sets and job-specific knowledge into the discussions, since we all performed different tasks and worked on separate crews, such as manhole raising, jet truck operation, and CCTV inspection.

“Our first class had seven students, and five of them passed the exam. We improved the class based on input from the first group and continued to schedule classes, focusing on specific test dates. Our results have been outstanding, and the class has really paid off. Now 100 percent of our foremen and 90 percent of our crew leaders are certified.

“The results have been so positive that we have been allowed to conduct the class during work hours, and upon receiving a state license the employee receives a five percent salary increase.

“The increase in certified employees has led to better buy-in to the CMOM effort and has increased overall job knowledge. The increase in confidence and performance has been a major contributing factor for our section winning the Georgia Association Of Water Professionals Collection System Of The Year for 2005 and 2007.”

Valuable knowledge

In Lucas County, Ohio, sanitary engineer James P. Shaw III, P.E., observes, “Our water and sanitary sewer utility maintenance staff has position descriptions that allow the employee to pass a course in water distribution and wastewater collection systems through the Operator Training Committee of Ohio to advance to a higher level of pay.

“This also prepares the employees to take the state licensing tests. Our staff has gained significant knowledge that allows them to provide ideas on the type of equipment we use and how to use it. This translates to a more productive and efficient staff with increased pride in work performance. The courses are based on the Sacramento books.”

At the state level

In Indiana, Gary Merriman and co-worker Brian Miller from the City of Fort Wayne administer voluntary collection system certification in a program managed through the Collection Systems Committee of the Indiana Water Environment Association.

“At the present time, we have 350 certified operators holding Class 1 through 4 certificates,” says Merriman, whose full-time role is construction program manager in the city’s Water Pollution Control Maintenance Department.

“Since the state doesn't recognize continuing education credits for collection system certificates, they are without expiration, and no renewal program is in place. Our exams are provided and graded by The Association of Boards of Certification in Ames, Iowa. The cost of an exam pays for the exam itself and the ABC membership dues. The majority of the people who take the exam do it because they have pay incentives based on the class certification they hold.

“In the case of the people I supervise in Fort Wayne, 45 of 59 union employees hold certificates, and 28 of them have Class 4. Besides earning extra money for the certificate, they use the knowledge they gain from studying for the exam in the operation and maintenance of our sewer collection system, which is over 2,000 miles.”

Certification seems to be gaining ground within progressive wastewater utilities and departments. Thanks to those who shared their insights. Keep those cards and letters coming.

Comments on this column or about any article in this publication may be directed to editor Ted J. Rulseh, 800/257-7222 or


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.